STOCKHOLM: Swedbank AB has chosen a new chief executive officer to steer Sweden’s biggest mortgage bank through a money-laundering scandal that ended the career of his predecessor.
Jens Henriksson will take over as CEO of the Stockholm-based bank “as soon as possible,” according to a statement late on Wednesday.
Swedbank has been run by its chief financial officer, Anders Karlsson, since Birgitte Bonnesen was fired in March amid concerns she misled the public about the severity of a dirty-money affair that triggered multiple investigations, including in the US.
Henriksson, who was born in 1967, comes from a position as CEO of Swedbank’s second-biggest shareholder, insurer Folksam.
Since 2013, he’s also been on the nomination committee of the bank’s board.
His appointment comes after investors voiced anger over Swedbank’s handling of the laundering scandal, including its apparent efforts to keep them in the dark, with some arguing that a new CEO must come from outside the lender’s ranks.
Swedbank shareholders have seen the value of their investment plunge almost 40% this year amid allegations that the bank may have handled vast sums of dirty Russian money, and after its former CEO failed to keep shareholders informed of the developments.
After the news of Henriksson’s appointment, shares in the bank were little changed when trading started in Stockholm on Thursday.
The bank is among this year’s worst performers in the Bloomberg index of European financial stocks.
In Henriksson, Swedbank has found a CEO who has both “skill, experience and a strong moral compass, which is exactly what the bank needs right now,” according to Joakim Bornold, a savings adviser at Soderberg & Partners. This is a “very good decision.”
But not everyone agrees. At investment broker Nordnet, adviser Frida Bratt said that Henriksson is “of course a very competent person with a solid experience. But that doesn’t automatically mean that he is the right person.”
She pointed to his close attachment to the bank during the years when it is alleged to have potentially handled more than US$100 billion in suspicious transactions tied to its Baltic operations.
“As a large owner that has been on the nomination committee,” Bratt said that Henriksson is “partly responsible for what happened within the bank.” She says that as the CEO of investor Folksam, Henriksson failed to ask difficult questions when he should have.
Henriksson’s career includes a stint at Swedbank as its global head of bank relations in 2010. Before that, he worked at the International Monetary Fund.
After the money-laundering allegations emerged, concerns were aired in national newspaper editorials that old friendships and former career ties may have shaped the way the Swedbank claims were handled by people at the nexus of power in finance, politics and regulation in a small nation of 10 million.
For example, Henriksson has career connections with the head of the Swedish financial regulator and the head of another Swedbank shareholder, Alecta.
Goran Persson, a former Swedish prime minister who took over as chairman this year after the laundering scandal led to the departure of his predecessor, praised the new CEO as an “experienced” leader.
Henriksson, who worked as a top adviser to Persson when he was finance minister in the 1990s, brings with him “a strong communicative ability and a broad knowledge of the banking and financial industry,” the chairman said.
Folksam, of which Henriksson has been CEO since 2013, currently holds 7.1% of Swedbank.
It beefed up its position in the bank during the global financial crisis a decade ago, when Swedbank suffered heavy losses due to credit impairments in the Baltic countries.